Saturday, April 12, 2008

Glitz and Loathing in Sarajevo

Bosnia, Year Sixteen (Excerpt)
by Nebojsa Malic

SARAJEVO – It has been sixteen years since war broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If commemorative coverage in the local media is anything to judge by, the war is still going on – the peace agreement made in Dayton, Ohio notwithstanding.

The war's physical scars in Sarajevo have mostly healed. Several burned-out buildings still remain, but the rest have been repaired and renovated. The city actually looks better today than even in 1984, when it last received a facelift for the Winter Olympics. Old Austrian-era buildings, gone drab with soot and smog over the course of the 20th century, now sport light ochre, burgundy, beige and even green facades. Communist-built public housing in western parts of the city, once depressingly concrete-gray, now sports cheerful blues, greens, yellows and reds.

And yet, only the buildings are cheerful. The people grumble. Work is scarce. Those who do work are sucked dry by a myriad of taxes and fees, levied to support a gargantuan bureaucracy. Bosnia-Herzegovina has more government officials per capita than anyplace else on the planet. And after paying all the local, provincial and entity taxes, Bosnians pay a crushing 17% VAT on everything they buy.

Shiny stores filled with expensive goods line Sarajevo's main streets, but there are few shoppers inside, and fewer buyers. The only burgeoning businesses are cafes, bars and eateries. There is never enough capital for entrepreneurs, but there is somehow always plenty of money for new mosques, or inflammatory war memorials.......Continued

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